Book Reviews: Scotland's Future


Title:      Scotland's Future
Categories:      Scottish Independence Referendum
Authors:      Scottish Government
ISBN-10(13):      9781784120689
Publisher:      Scottish Government
Publication date:      26/11/2013
Edition:      1
Number of pages:      670
Language:      English
Picture:      cover

Scotland’s Future-Scottish Government White Paper

The referendum for Scottish Independence asks ‘Should Scotland be an Independent Country?’ and takes place on 18 September 2014. If successful Scotland’s Independence Day will be 24 March 2016. Why has this question arisen? Currently there are 59 Scottish MPs in the Westminster Parliament of 650 MPs so the Scottish reprosentation is very much in a minority. The numbers of Scottish MPs were reduced from 72 on the revival of the Scottish Parliament which has devolved powers over many of the domestic issues (health, education, housing, agriculture, transport, law and order, local government, sport, art and tourism). The reconvening of the Scottish Parliament made a great step in correcting the democratic deficit that Scotland endured whereby as a minority few, if any, policies where focussed on the needs of Scotland. Even so the democratic deficit still exists, Scotland is broadly centre left in its politics, Westminster is usually centre right and the Scots don’t feel well represented at Westminster and seeing themselves as a separate country not simply a region of England is at the heart of the referendum question. Exacerbating this is successive UK Governments' focus on London in all aspects and particularly concentrating on the financial centres of the City of London and the banks. The rest of the economy seems subservient. The belief is widely held that economic policies tailored to the needs of Scotland will deliver a more prosperous and fairer society in Scotland. The independence referendum is about a fundamental democratic choice for the people of Scotland, who should govern Scotland. It is about decisions affecting Scotland taken by the people of Scotland in pursuit of building a country that reflects the people of Scotland’s priorities and values. If the choice of Devo-Max that is full fiscal autonomy had been a third option on the ballot I think that it would have attracted overwhelming support. The option of Devo-Max would have given an easier transition to eventual independence than independence taken in one step now. But this choice was rejected by the UK Prime Minister Cameron who in negotiating the Edinburgh Agreement that legalised the holding of the referendum and committing both the Yes and No sides to working together, constructively, regardless of the outcome of the referendum for the benefits of Scotland and the rest of the UK. In effect responsibility for facing the stark choice of Yes for independence or No for perhaps the status quo or perhaps more devolution or perhaps less devolution rests squarely with Cameron. The important point worth noting is at present there is no clear explanation of the consequences of a No vote. There is no clear agreed way forward and it is considered, in Scotland, as unlikely that a convincing plan can be produced by the Unionist Parties. In the London media it would appear that the view is that such a plan is unnecessary as the independence battle is already lost, so no need to plan for more devolution there won’t be any. Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservatives have commissions sitting working on their plans for more devolution but expectations are not high and confused obfuscated statements are likely.

So far the campaign from the NO side has been negative and driven by scare stories of how badly Scotland will fare if independent. In parallel there has been a well orchestrated campaign trying to convince the Scottish electorate that they need more information. The YES side haven’t responded by a rebuttal for every forecast catastrophe and the response to the scares and the request for more information has been ‘wait for the White Paper it will answer all your questions’.

So the much awaited Scottish Government White Paper was launched on 26th November 2013. On the launch it was with remarkable speed that the document was read, digested and then totally condemned by Alastair Darling the leader of the NO Campaign, Alastair Carmichael, Secretary of State for Scotland (although there is much in print questioning the word ‘for’ in his title) and Johann Lamont, Leader of Scottish Labour. The criticisms were no more than pre-prepared campaign propaganda slogans. No thought, no analysis and no consideration. That is the level of the debate so far. We can wonder what will change on 19 September 2014 in the event of a YES vote. Will the Unionist UK Government hold the same views on the morning of the 19th September 2014 on the event of a YES vote or will there be a more enlightened approach driven by reality and self interest. Probably.

The White paper is a multifaceted document. It is a prospectus or a manifesto for a future Scottish Government. It is a negotiating posture on the basis of that is what the people of Scotland voted for so that is what we have to deliver for them. It is a vision or blueprint of how an independent Scotland could work. It is a document that highlights aims that the Scottish Government can’t be sure of delivering until the post-referendum, pre-independence negotiations take place. Finally it also aspires to be an inspirational document raising the ambitions of the Scottish people.

The expression game-changer has been placed against this document in the sense of whether it will propel the YES campaign to take a lead in the opinion polls. Time will tell. However the question really is whose game will it change and it would appear the change is now needed in the NO campaign. It is the NO campaign that needs to spell out their plans for Scotland. If Scotland decides in the referendum to stay in the Union what will the Unionist parties deliver for Scotland. Most Scots expect nothing or less. It is widely expected that in the event of a NO decision Whitehall will gleefully put away the Scottish files and regard the irritating Scottish problem as solved and the Scots well and truly back in their box. The All Parliamentary Taxation Group published its report on the implications of the Referendum and recommend that should Scotland vote NO that the Barnett formula for re-distributing some of Scotland’s taxes back to Scotland should be scrapped and replaced with a seven indicators needs based formula which should save £4bn going to Scotland. Some expect a claw back of devolved powers to ensure that a referendum doesn’t occur again. But all the Unionists Parties who apparently are really keen to keep Scotland in the Union will no doubt respond to the White Paper with some visionary plans that will excite and please the Scottish people and encourage them to vote NO. Perhaps. At the moment the YES campaign presents a positive vision of opportunity, hope and prosperity whilst the NO campaign is exceedingly negative naming their own campaign ‘Project Fear’. This White Paper will surely drive the NO campaign to match YES in vision and hope. Again time will tell.

The headline issues that supposedly separate the two sides are Europe, NATO, the currency and the economy. These are addressed in the White paper and have filled the news media since.

On Europe the White Paper and YES side’s view is that negotiations will take place that will allow Scotland to continue membership of the EU. Credibility is given to the view of Sir David Edwards former judge at the European Court of Justice that Scotland’s continued membership of the EU will be by a treaty amendment and not a full accession process. It is argued that when the time comes to re-negotiate Scotland’s membership Scotland will be doing so as an existing member of the EU and that an independent Scotland is not a hostile breakaway but independence has been consented by the existing sovereign state of which Scotland is a member. This is the consequence of the Edinburgh Agreement. When Scotland goes to the EU to re-negotiate its position Scotland will go together with the rUK and there will be a united front. The EU will not be being asked to sort out a squabble. Some of the issues could be resolved now but it needs the UK Government as the member state to approach the EU. The UK Government will not do this in advance of the referendum on the grounds that it won’t pre-negotiate, but after the referendum, given a YES vote and bound by the legislation following the Edinburgh Agreement the UK Government will clearly fulfil the responsibilities. The UK Government freely negotiated the Edinburgh Agreement and will honour the responsibilities placed on it.

The NO side frequently quote Barroso, the EU President, as saying that new states will have to negotiate their accession. He goes on to say he was not specifically referring to Scotland. The NO side now also quote the Spanish PM Rajoy as saying the Scottish people need to know the situation that they would have an extensive negotiations as a new state. Rajoy, however, wasn’t aiming his remarks at Scotland but at Catalunya where he is trying to discourage a separatist movement. The NO side say it will only take one veto to scupper Scotland’s continued membership of the EU and currently their favourite to do so is Rajoy. Sensible commentators think that unlikely.

Scotland is not coming to these negotiations with a begging bowl, Scotland will be among the richer nations of the EU with oil, renewable energy, its food and drinks industry, manufacturing, extensive fishing waters and a sought after higher education system. Scotland has much to offer or take away from the EU, Scotland will be a net contributor to the EU budget. Only the rhetoric of the NO camp is failure in this transition foreseen. Wiser sources predict that the outcome of the transition will be Scotland not in the Euro or Schengen, Scotland losing the current UK budgetary opt outs but gaining by direct access to budgets from the Common Agricultural fund and the Structural fund currently filtered disadvantageously through Westminster and all achieved without overdue delay.

The curious aspect of this is that the London media which gleefully predicts Scotland’s expulsion from Europe are supporters of the Conservative right wing in the promotion of the in-out EU referendum. So the NO side’s position could be characterised as: you won’t get into Europe so you should stay in the Union where you will be able to leave the EU with us! The EU is important to Scotland and her economy, independence seems the safest way of protecting this.

On NATO membership which the White Paper envisages no sensible commentator sees the negotiations to join either being difficult or failing. NATO will not want a large gaping hole on its European Atlantic seaboard. The White Paper seeks a nuclear free membership. This is the membership enjoyed by the majority of NATO countries as the nuclear club is small. The issue is Trident which the White Paper envisaged being removed fairly soon. This looks like an issue that can be discussed and maybe Trident won’t leave quite as quickly as the paper foresees. The NO campaign messages of expulsion seem wide of the mark.

On currency, everyone in the NO camp is adamant that a currency Union as seen be the White Paper is not on offer and will not happen. However Chancellor Osbourne’s words are that a currency Union is unlikely. That sounds like a negotiating position rather than a straight no. It is not plausible that the rUK would wish a currency boundary between itself and its second biggest trading partner. The loss of Scotland to the currency would cause market fluctuations in sterling’s value and the cost of borrowing. So if there ever was a case for mutual interest this is it. So never mind the naysayers and doom merchants they are simply electioneering in an attempt to scare the voters. And whilst the NO campaign is loudly proclaiming they’ll never be a currency union Mark Carney the Governor of the Bank of England ( which should currently be more accurately named the Central Bank of the UK) has said he would welcome talks on the subject to follow up on those started by his predecessor. This doesn’t seem like his mind is closed to the outcome. So again we have the rhetoric of the NO campaign not reflecting reality.

On the economy the Paper states the strength of the Scottish economy. It is accepted by all that Scotland is a perfectly viable country in its own right. As an independent country Scotland would face public spending pressures and in the medium term if the economy didn’t grow Scotland would face public spending cuts and/or tax rises. But these cuts or tax rises if they come would be chosen in an independent Scotland by a Government elected by the Scottish people reflecting their values and ambitions. If Scotland remains in the Union Scotland will face public spending pressures with more cuts and/or tax rises imposed by a Westminster Government. There seems a choice here and the prospect of a faster growing economy thriving under policies tailored to Scotland would seem the better option. The prospect of labouring under the existing policies and the consequences seems much less attractive. It would be sad if the outcome of this referendum was determined by one view of an uncertain economic future, the Union, against another view of an uncertain economic future, independence. At least with independence there is more of a fighting chance of getting economic policies to suit and hence better prospects for growth. I hope the decision will be taken with higher levels of vision in mind as to what Scotland could be and Scotland’s place in the World amongst other nations, most of whom are smaller and poorer than Scotland.

These big four issues the EU, NATO, Currency and the economy are the battle ground on which the NO campaign has chosen to fight. The question is whether they are the main issues with the voters in Aberdeen, Ayr or the Glasgow housing estates such as Castlemilk or Easterhouse. It may be that the NO campaign is fighting on the wrong issues as the White Paper introduces another dimension on which it is campaigning and that is welfare. This could be of more interest to the voters who may take the view that the grand issues will get sorted and this is what affects me. The Universal Benefit system being introduced and the bedroom tax are targets for the YES campaign. The headline welfare promise is in child care. This is linked to the economy under the argument that if you free women to join the workforce there is the prospect of growth, improved tax revenues and the likelihood that the child care scheme could be self funding as it is in Finland but in the meantime it can be funded from defence savings. The NO side is certainly not going to enter a bidding war on welfare proposals. The SNP and the YES side have opened up an alternative front to challenge the NOs. The NO response has been silence and the media have largely ignored it as well. Are the welfare issues causing the NO campaign some discomfort?

Another aspect in the White Paper that caught my eye was the proposal to have a written constitution and the embracing approach to drafting it. The concept of a written constitution appeals to me, it places the people of a country at the heart of the country’s constitution. The unwritten constitution that we currently have only suits Governments as their obligations are not enshrined in a guiding document, they have too much freedom.

The White Paper foresees the continuation of the monarchy and that is the SNP’s policy. But there is an intriguing sentence that says ‘After Scotland becomes independent, any political party seeking to make these kind of changes would first have to win support to do so in an election.’ These kind of changes included the monarchy, the EU, NATO or the currency. It is a reminder that the White paper sets out a starting point and that future changes are possible. The White Paper spells out the SNP views but I speculate as to what might be in Labour’s agenda as currently the only likely alternative to an SNP Government in Scotland and wonder if the monarchy is the most vulnerable.

The chapters of this White Paper are : The case for independence; Scotland’s finances; Finance and the economy; Health wellbeing and social protection; Education skills and employment; International relations and defence; Justice security and home affairs; Environment, rural Scotland, energy and resources; Culture communications and digital; Building a modern democracy; and Questions and Answers (650 questions)

It is a task reading it cover to cover. Once its main messages are absorbed it will be more useful as a reference document to dip into to check what the policy is on whatever issue interests you at that time.

The White Paper has already made a notable contribution to the Referendum campaigns and an example would be the debate on STV on the evening after the White Paper’s launch between Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy Leader of the SNP and leader of their independence campaign and Alastair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland. Fraser Nelson writing in the Telegraph says Carmichael was disembowelled in the debate by Sturgeon because of lack of input, whereas Sturgeon could quote from the White Paper. Fraser Nelson in the same article regretted that the debate was shown only in Scotland and said that Cameron should have seen as it would explain the trouble the Union is in. Nelson reports that conventional wisdom in Westminster is that Salmond is fatally wounded and that that his independence referendum is already lost. But Nelson goes on to say that amongst Cameron’s chief strategists the mood is bleak and that they argue that a YES vote is not only possible but probable. The reasoning behind this is that the bewildered and slapped face of Alastair Carmichael is the one that the Cameron Government is presenting to the Scots as the face of the Union and that the team that Alastair Darling leads is Scottish Labour who were trashed by the SNP in 2011.The NO team will lose this Referendum because they are not able to mount a convincing defence of the Union.

The commentary on the White Paper that resonated most with me was by Sir Tom Hunter writing in the Herald. He deplores the level of debate so far. He welcomes the White paper as a blueprint for an Independent Scotland. He asks where is the No Campaign’s blueprint other than ‘trust us and you’ll have more of the same'. He calls on Cameron to list the top 10 reasons as to why we’ll be better staying in the Union-where are the positive messages Mr Cameron?

He says the White paper takes a step closer to a grown up debate but is short on the blockbusting ideas for commerce but it has given us something to debate, to cost, to consider .We need to know the alternative to independence plain and simple.

Instead I think we'll probably get nit picking adnauseum from the high moral ground that the NOs have got no vision or plan to defend so they're free to criticise in minute detail the White Paper.

Ronald McCaffer

There might be more in due course.